38 Popular Day Hikes in
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The National Park Service maintains more than 800 miles of trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Whether you are a novice with little-to-no hiking experience, or a 900-miler on the Appalachian Trail, the Smoky Mountains has a trail for you. Our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes helps you decide which trails suit you.
How do you know which trails are suitable for your level of experience and athleticism? Which trails have the features you want? We created a series of icons to identify specific qualities and features and assigned them to the trails.
For example, are you looking for easy day hikes? Look for the “easy” icon. Are you looking for a day hikes with waterfalls? There is an icon for that, too. You get the idea. Each trail on our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes has a photo with icons describing the trail’s features.
38 Popular Day Hikes: Trail Icons Defined
The black icons with an “e”, “m”, or “s”, describe the difficulty level of the trail: easy, moderate, or strenuous. Hiking guides differ on how they grade a trail, so we use the most common grade on our day hikes. In addition, if we have hiked the trail personally, we use our own experiences to grade it.
The trails in 38 Popular Day Hikes fall under four categories: 1) Out & Back, 2) Lollipop, 3) Loop, and 4) Point to Point. The descriptions are fairly obvious. The only one that possibly needs an explanation is the point to point. The difference between an out and back and a point to point is that hikers can start at either end of a point to point trail.
Many of the 38 Popular Day Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have water features. No, not like the ones built by your landscaper; God made these. We highlight 1) waterfalls, 2) cascading water, and 3) rivers, creeks, or streams.
The four red icons designate day hikes with 1) great fall foliage, 2) an abundance of wildflowers, 3) scenic views, or 4) a building of historical significance.
Horses, Dogs, and Bikes
Horses, dogs, and bikes are forbidden on nearly all the trails located inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, there are a few trails that welcome one, or all, of these. When you see these icons, you know that your dog, horse or bike is allowed on the trail.
Foot Traffic Levels
The foot traffic on the 38 Popular Day Hikes varies greatly. 1) Trails with our “single-hiker” icon are rarely crowded, and if you want to be alone on a trail, you should head for these. 2) Our “two-hikers” icon indicates that the trail is not crowded, but you should expect to see other hikers on the trail. 3) More than a thousand people a day use the most popular trails. Heavily used trails are designated by our “three-hikers” icon. If you want to hike with the masses, these trails are for you.
38 Popular Day Hikes
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is rife with hiking opportunities. With hundreds of miles of trails, you could stop just about anywhere along the roads and get on a trail. However, there is a better way to plan your hiking adventure.
We have chosen 38 popular day hikes to highlight. These trails offer an assortment of challenges, views, rivers, bridges, historical buildings, and more.
Being popular doesn’t mean easy or quick. A trail gets on the “popular day hikes” list because it is a much loved trail. It may be easy or difficult to hike.
Anyway, we hope you find a trail that entices you to put on the hiking boots, climb in the car, and get back to nature. Our 38 Popular Day Hikes is here to help.
Look Rock Tower Trail is located on the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Chilhowee, TN. This short, half mile (1 mile round trip), out and back trail, is popular because of the 360° views it provides of the Great Smoky Mountains from the observation tower.
Abrams Falls is one of the most popular trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is 5 miles long and is well traveled by more than a thousand people every day. Expect crowds throughout the year, although winter hikes will be less crowded. More than a few hiking bloggers have indicated that it is their favorite.
This trail is a well used, one mile (round trip), out and back, beginning at the Cades Cove Loop Road. The surface is well maintained, consisting of compacted dirt and gravel. Since this trail is easy to walk, very short, located in Cades Cove, and has several buildings to see, it is crowded. You will never walk alone on this trail.
Gregory Bald is considered one of the most spectacular settings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Each summer, flame azaleas cover the bald in an amazing panorama of colors. Due to the difficult nature of this hike, only the physically fit get to enjoy the payoff.
Fighting forest fires in the 1930’s was not as advanced as it is today, and having a bird’s eye view required putting a man above the trees. Park Rangers used these fire towers throughout the park to monitor the forest and report any fires. As technology advanced, the towers became obsolete and were abandoned. Many of the old fire towers have disappeared.
This is a great trail near a wonderful attraction, but you won’t see many other hikers. Solitude is abundant on this trail. Views of the valley, amazing wildflowers, deer, and wild turkeys, can be expected on the Rich Mountain Trail.
Although the trail is called a loop, it is actually a lollipop trail. As you begin your hike on Anthony Creek Trail, expect to see many other hikers along this crowded trail. Even though it is rated “strenuous,” it is well utilized. The loop encompasses four trails.
The easiest way to get to the trailhead is to drive to Fontana Village Resort Marina and take the boat shuttle. You can top off your water supply and use the restroom before boarding for the short trip across Fontana Lake. I could live on a boat, so there is no other choice in my opinion.
The highlight of this trail is the water. Several beautiful waterfalls and cascades can be found all along the trail. While Abrams Falls Trail is by far the more popular trail, the waterfalls and water features of Middle Prong Trail are much better. If you want to see water, this is the trail you want to schedule.
The historic Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse is just a short hike up Metcalf Bottoms Trail. Continue on via the Little Brier Gap Trail to visit the homestead of the last residents of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Walker Sisters.
Laurel Falls Trail is quite possibly the most popular trail in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hike to the waterfall is 1.3 miles in each direction. The payoff is an 80’ tall waterfall with opportunities for taking great selfies with your companions.
Begin your hike on Little River Trail and arrive at Husky Branch Falls after walking 2.1 miles. The waterfall is 20’ tall and is a great place for photos. Walk another 0.3 mile and turn right onto Cucumber Gap Trail.
The wildflowers along Little River Trail in April and May are spectacular, some of the best in the park. If you happen to be hiking in the fall (October), the leaf colors are breathtaking. You will not find a more beautiful spot to see fall colors up close and personal in the Smoky Mountains.
The surface is a typical mountain trail of packed dirt with occasional roots and gravel. The trail is one mile long and nearly flat, so it is family friendly. Most people can complete the hike in 45 minutes or so. This is a great introductory trail for a hiking newbie. Look for it at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
This trail has a flat, paved surface suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. The short distance makes it a quick hike of less than thirty minutes. Physically handicapped persons can enjoy the great outdoors on this trail if they cannot access trails that are more traditional.
Gatlinburg Trail is one of only two trails in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allows dogs. In addition, Gatlinburg Trail is one of only four trails in the park where visitors may ride bikes. Begin in Gatlinburg or at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Old Sugarlands is a wide trail and does not have any dangerous drop-offs to worry about. The surface is an old mountain road and still looks like a two-lane road through the woods. Signs along the trail point to the Sugarlands Cemetery, an abandoned schoolhouse, and other points of interest.
The 30 minutes allotted for walking the trail does not take into consideration the time needed for looking at the historic buildings. You could spend a couple of hours in total, depending how closely you examine the old structures. In the spring, wildflowers are in abundance throughout the property.
Chimney Tops Trail is one of the most popular in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is also one of the most strenuous. So what makes one of the most strenuous trails one of the most popular? That is easy; the end of the trail reveals one of the most amazing views in the entire park.
Andrews Bald is a fantastic place for an early/late summer picnic (to avoid the heat) and the view of Fontana Lake is spectacular on a clear day. Wildflowers, rhododendron, and flaming azaleas cover the highest bald in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with color.
The wildflowers on Rainbow Falls Trail are amazing in the spring. The 80’ tall waterfall is spectacular after a long, steady rain. Rainbow Falls derives its name from the rainbow sometimes visible in the mist on sunny days. Rainbow Falls is also the highest single-drop waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Grotto Falls is located 1.3 miles from the Trillium Gap Trail trailhead. It is famous for being the only waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can walk behind the falls. You will appreciate the cool, misty spot if you are hiking in the summer heat. Enjoy it, and be safe.
Alum Cave Trail is arguably the easiest route to Mt. LeConte. Along the way, hikers will enjoy some of the best geological features in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Alum Cave Bluffs and Arch Rock are two highlights.
The 1.7-mile hike listed here is but a taste of the Appalachian Trail. This section begins at the Newfound Gap parking area and ends at the Road Prong Trailhead (Indian Gap parking area).
As you approach Juney Whank Falls, a footbridge allows you to experience the 90’ tall waterfall up close. A bench built into the footbridge is a nice place to sit and cool off while taking in the waterfall.
Due to its close proximity to Bryson City and the Deep Creek Campground and picnic areas, this trail is popular with tubers and hikers alike. Beginning at Indian Creek Trail, equestrians also may use the trail.
Wildflowers are in abundance at the trailhead and along the first two miles of the trail. Some say that a spring hike on Porters Creek Trail is unequaled in the Smokies. The best time to see wildflowers is from April to May, although the trail is open year round.
Charlies Bunion is a popular rock outcropping destination on the Appalachian Trail, primarily reached by experienced hikers. The hike is not especially strenuous, but a few drop-offs require careful attention. Our rating is moderate, although the second half of the trail is more strenuous.
The hike to Kephart Shelter is 2.0 miles in each direction. Kephart Prong Trail parallels the Kephart Prong of the Oconaluftee River and is a nice place to enjoy the sites and sounds of the river. In addition, quite a few historical remnants remain from early 20th century buildings.
Old Settlers Trail has more historical remnants than any other trail in the park. Early settlers flourished in this area. Many communities were built, then abandoned when park founders took the land for the park through eminent domain. Although this hike is included on our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes, you may want to finish it over two days.
Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 105 feet. The beautiful waterfall drops down rock outcroppings and gathers in a small pool. There are several places to get great photos with the waterfall in the background.
Smokemont Loop Trail is a beautiful hike with flowers, trees, and views. The summit provides great views of the surrounding mountains. Crossing the river requires a little dexterity and a smidgen of courage as the bridge is a single log, about 40 feet long and 2 feet wide. I read somewhere that it is the longest footbridge in the park.
Oconaluftee River Trail is a short and easy hike with quick access from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. In addition to hikers, dogs and bicycles are allowed. The open-air Mountain Farm Museum is an optional stop at the trailhead.
The old gravel road on Maddron Bald Trail gives way to a narrow forest trail about 2.3-miles from the trailhead as you enter a magnificent old-growth forest. The old trees reach to the sky and provide an amazing experience unlike any other in the park. You have almost arrived at Albright Grove Loop.
Hen Wallow Falls is located about 2.1 miles from the Gabes Mountain Trail trailhead. The 95' drop creates a beautiful ice sculpture during winter freezes. A moderate hike taking just 3-4 hours.
Mouse Creek Falls is accessed via a rather short, moderate hike on Big Creek Trail. A nice 45' tall waterfall as the payoff. Located near Hartford, TN in the Big Creek Campground area.
Little Cataloochee Trail is a moderately difficult trail winding through historic homesteads and across creeks and rivers. Not far from Maggie Valley, Little Cataloochee Trail is popular with equestrians.
Boogerman Loop is a great historical trail accessed via Caldwell Fork Trail in Cataloochee Valley. Experience more than a dozen creek crossings in one of the best old-growth forests in the Smokies.